Ah, the six-pack.
Deemed as the pinnacle of a shredded physique, there isn’t a man or woman alive who can say that a toned abdomen isn’t something they desire.
Not only are our core muscles aesthetically pleasing, but are a major aspect in keeping our body stable and strong throughout those harder compound movements, like squats, deadlifts, or even the bench press.
Even if you aren’t bothered about training for hypertrophy, and are just wanting to be more powerful for your sport, then guess where that source of power will come from?
That’s right, a strong set of abdominal muscles.
Finding exercises that efficiently train your core muscles can be a difficult task, and you have probably come across some tools that claim to be the one and only thing you need for a strong and sculpted six-pack.
In this article, we are going in-depth with one of these pieces of equipment – the ab-roller.
You are going to find out how it works and whether it’s the most effective tool for your abdomen.
Spoiler alert – it’s not. And that’s why I’m also giving you 3 alternative movements that you can use with nothing but your body weight.
Let’s get into it.
What Is An Ab Roller?
The ab roller is a fairly simple device.
2 handles, connected to a wheel.
There are a few varieties out there, with the ab-slide being one of the more complex types, having additional features to aid with stability.
But overall, the basic design has been engineered for you to hold in the plank position and roll forward and backward, sending your abdominal muscles into a frenzy by forcing them to keep your body off the ground while stretching and contracting.
Surprisingly enough, though, it doesn’t just target your transverse and rectus abdominal muscles.
To counteract gravity, and prevent yourself from faceplanting the floor, your body is forced to call in back-up from muscles such as your obliques (found at the side of your abdomen), as well as your posterior chain of muscles (your glutes, back, and hamstrings).
Pretty much any muscle in your body will get involved to stabilize yourself, as long as you use the proper form.
How To Do Ab Rollouts With The Correct Form?
- Kneel on a flat surface and place the ab wheel on the floor, slightly in front of you.
- Grab the handles of the roller with both hands, and shift your weight onto the tool.
- Make sure you engage your core, keeping your back and arms straight with the roller beneath your shoulders.
- Keeping your core tight, start rolling the wheel out in front of you, inhaling as you move.
- As you reach the point of full extension, just before your back bends, pause for a second.
- It is important that your torso remains in position, as moving side to side could cause spinal damage.
- By driving through your abs, pull the wheel back toward the original position. Do not bend the elbows.
- Repeat until failure (your abs will give up and likely fall to the floor!)
Is The Ab Roller Effective
A research team at Kansas State University performed a study on both male and female students, using a variety of ab equipment in comparison to the standard crunch.
They connected a complex piece of equipment to the abdominal muscles of each participant, which makes use of electromyographic signals to determine numeric values for the strain on the various muscles in the abdomen, including the obliques and the Rectus Abdominis.
It was found that the external obliques were producing a significantly higher value of electrical activity than the other exercises.
On the other hand, the AbSlide produced the lowest of the electrical activity values for the upper Rectus Abdominis muscles, with the lower remaining the same throughout the study.
So, from this scientific study, we can determine the Ab Roller as a fairly effective exercise for your abs, but it isn’t the best.
Even exercises like the simple torso flex can produce higher stress on the muscle fibers in the core than the ab roller, meaning we can choose better exercises that target these muscles a lot more efficiently.
An ab roller also seemed to introduce the hip flexors during movement, which is a very undesirable feature for abdominal movement.
Now, with the science-y bit out of the way, let’s dive into the pros and cons of purchasing an ab roller.
- Strengthens all of the stabilizing muscles in the body, including your abdominal muscles, your back, and your legs.
- Helps to improve spinal strength, helping to resist injury and improve posture.
- One of the best exercises for training your outer Obliques.
- Most ab rollers are fairly inexpensive and come pretty durable and with plenty of grips.
- Can use this device to work out wherever you like.
- An Ab Rollout isn’t a very beginner-friendly exercise and requires a fair amount of core strength for one rep.
- Not as effective for those key abdominal muscles that represent a shredded six-pack.
- Not recommended for those with lower back, or spinal injuries, as it can put a lot of strain on those areas.
- Encourages the use of your hip flexors, which is undesirable for an ab workout.
- Some bodyweight exercises tend to provide a more comprehensive workout for all of your abdominal muscles.
Ab Roller Alternatives
Look, the Ab Roller works.
If you have 10 dollars lying around then get one, check it out and see if it works for you.
But this isn’t the case for everyone.
Maybe you aren’t a fan of ab rollers or need to build up your strength before you attempt this intermediate exercise.
Or maybe you want to just work out with your body weight, not everyone needs equipment!
Here are my 3 favorite bodyweight alternatives you can use to break down all of the muscle fibers in your core, recovering them stronger and sculpted to perfection.
Quick side note before we get into the exercises: If you are looking to get rock-hard abs like Bruce Lee himself, then check out this kick-ass routine you can follow right here.
Hanging Leg Raises
Finding an exercise that can isolate the abdominal muscles more efficiently than the ab roller, while keeping the comprehensive full-body challenge, was always going to provide me with a tough task.
But I think we have kicked off this list with a cracking alternative.
With the hanging leg raises, we are putting a large amount of strain on the Rectus Abdominis muscles, or more specifically, your lower abs.
You will certainly feel the burn in your six-pack with this movement.
By adding the hanging aspect to our workout regime, we can expect to build strength in our upper body, such as our shoulders and lats.
This just edges the full-body workout an ab roller can provide, giving us that bigger and better challenge.
It doesn’t just stop at the strength and shredded abs with this exercise, though.
You can expect a large enhancement to your hip flexibility and your stability, while also improving your grip strength.
If you tend to experience soreness or strains in your hip and shoulder joints, then this movement is great for decreasing the likelihood of injuries in those areas.
How To Do It
- You are going to need a pull-up bar or a sturdy alternative for this exercise.
- Jump up and grip the bar with an underhand grip, facing away from the wall so your legs can kick outward.
- Hang from the bar, keeping your arms and shoulder by your ears. Keep your legs together and extended. If it helps, point your toes.
- Engage your core, and keep your torso straight.
- Drive through your posterior muscles, such as your glutes and lats, pushing your extended legs upwards until they are parallel with the floor.
- Hold this position for a second, feeling the tension in your abs.
- Control your legs back to the original position and repeat for around 20 reps, or until failure.
- If you find this exercise too difficult, start by bringing your knees into your chest.
Next up we have an alternative that I like to think of as the bodyweight sister to the Ab roller.
Basically, if you want an alternative that resembles the ab roller, without the equipment but the same challenge, then this exercise is the one for you.
The muscles worked with the ab walkout are fairly similar to the ab wheel, with a greater emphasis on the Abdominis muscles but the same strain on the Obliques.
We can also thank this exercise for putting less strain on our lower back and our hips, as we have a lot more control over how our body moves, rather than an external device.
We can therefore take our time moving to a position our shoulders find comfortable, rather than trying to speed up and prevent our spine from giving way.
How To Do It
- Start by finding a flat surface and getting into a pike pushup position, with your palms flat on the surface and your legs as extended as possible.
- Try to keep your back straight and engage your core.
- Slowly walk your hands away from your feet, approaching the pushup position.
- Keep your posterior muscles engaged as you extend, to ensure your back remains straight and your spine safe.
- Keep walking your hands as far as possible, without bending your back. You should feel stress on your core muscles.
- Hold this position for a couple of seconds, similar to holding a plank.
- Walk your hands back into the original position.
- Repeat for 3 sets of 12 reps.
If I am being honest, the 2 alternatives I have given you are similar to the ab roller in difficulty, making them fairly hard for a novice gym-goer.
Fortunately, this final alternative is the best option for beginners, providing them with a full ab isolation exercise, with a ton of added health benefits and fewer advanced movements that need an intermediate level of strength to complete.
The great thing about this exercise is it targets all the muscles in your core in two stages.
First, the actual crunching of the torso targets your Abdominis muscles, helping to get your upper abs shredded.
Then, the twisting movement involved helps to put stress on your obliques, giving you a fuller and stronger six-pack.
This exercise is awesome for your body, providing more stability and flexibility for your spine, and your hips.
As well as this, you can guarantee after doing this exercise consistently, and with enough intensity, your fitness levels and cardiovascular health improve drastically.
How To Do It
- Lie down flat on the floor, starting with your feet planted and hands on your ears.
- Lift your knees towards your chest, until your lower legs are parallel with the floor.
- Engage your core and raise your upper back off the floor slightly, so you can feel the tension in your abs.
- Bring your left elbow and right knee together, meeting above your midsection. At the same time, extend your left leg. Pause for a second in this position.
- Repeat for the opposite side, extending your right leg and bringing your left leg to your right elbow.
- Keep alternating for a specified interval of time.
Check out this Video I posted showing why you should stop doing regular crunches!
So, there we have it.
My comprehensive guide on the simple wheeled device known as the ab roller.
The exercise itself is pretty useful, activating your abdominal muscles fairly effectively, and is excellent for your Obliques and upper body stability.
On the other hand, it is not at all beginner friendly, unless you start working out with a decent level of fitness and strength.
In addition to this, those of us with injuries or who are particularly susceptible to strains and pulls in the lower back should not attempt this exercise and utilize one of my alternatives instead.
One thing you may notice in common with the Ab roller and its similar bodyweight movement above is its ability to allow you to train anywhere and everywhere.
If this is as important to you, as it is to me, then check out my free Ebook, “Train Wherever The F*ck You Want” for more details on how you can escape the chains of a gym membership.
So, what are your opinions on the ab roller?
Are there any exercise alternatives you prefer?
Let me know in the comments below.